McAdam: As players press, offense stalls


McAdam: As players press, offense stalls

By Sean McAdam

CLEVELAND -- In the course of analyzing the Cleveland Indians' approach to Josh Beckett Tuesday night, manager Terry Francona indirectly got to the real cause of the Red Sox' 3-1 defeat to the Indians, their fourth in a row to begin the season.

"Give them credit," said Francona. "They did a really good job grinding out at-bats. They did it better than we did."

Indeed, while Beckett was needing 106 pitches to get through five innings, Josh Tomlin pitched seven innings and needed only 91 pitches. While Beckett labored through some at-bats that appeared endless, Tomlin enjoyed three innings in which he faced just three hitters and one other in which he faced four.

From the third inning through the eighth, the Sox collected just one hit -- a leadoff single by Dustin Pedroia in the fourth quickly erased by a double-play from Adrian Gonzalez one hitter later. The Sox didn't get another hit until Pedroia added a one-out single in the ninth.

Boston had just three baserunners in scoring position all evening.

It wasn't hard to figure out what was going on. After being outscored 26-11 in Texas last weekend, Red Sox hitters evidently tried to get it all back with one at-bat.

Gone was the careful approach with which the Red Sox usually operate, wearing down the opposing pitcher by working the count and forcing him to throw the ball over the middle of the plate.

Instead, an impatient Sox' attack was overly aggressive, resulting in ground balls being pounded into the infield or hit meekly into the air. The same lineup which scored 10 runs in the first two games in Texas has now been limited to just two runs in the last 20 innings.

The starting pitching, which failed to keep them in the first two games has gradually gotten somewhat better. The offense, meanwhile, has unmistakably gotten worse.

If it's not one thing, it's another.

"We're swinging at stuff out of the zone," acknowledged Pedroia. "We're anxious. Everyone wants to do good. That's what happens when you see a lot of check swings."

Gonzalez, who has cooled after piling up five hits in the first two games, pled guilty to impatience after an 0-for-4 night.

"We did a really poor job of being selective and getting good pitches to hit," he said. "We're just going to have to get better at that."

Francona has tried juggling the lineup with little to show for his shuffling. He stuck with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had been hitless over the first three games with 10 strikeouts, and was rewarded with a run-scoring single in the catcher's first at-bat.

But the middle third of the Boston lineup -- Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz -- was a combined 0-for-9 with three walks.

Six of Boston's regulars are hitting under .200 through the first four games.

Were this the middle of the season, the offensive skid could be written off as the byproduct of a long season, part of the natural ebb and flow of the 162- game grind. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

But because the slump is happening in the first week of a season in which expectations are almost impossibly high, the problem gets magnified. Correspondingly, the players, eager to turn things around, grind their bats into sawdust rather than grinding out at-bats.

Then there's some plain bad luck. In the ninth, with a hint of life against closer Chris Perez -- first and third with two outs -- Ortiz flicked a liner toward the left field foul line. But the Indians had Austin Kearns inexplicably shaded that way and Kearns needed only to take a couple of steps to stab the ball for the final out.

"I put a good swing on it," shrugged Ortiz. "There's nothing much you can do about it. I was surprised the left fielder was playing there. He got there easily. I guess that was one of those magical moments coaches who position fielders get right. What else can you do? Nothing. I did what I was supposed to do - put a good swing on the ball. That's about it."

The lineup is too good to continue failing like this. Ortiz and Gonzalez knocked in 100 runs each last year and Youkilis undoubtedly would have reached that milestone too had he not missed time with a thumb injury. Crawford gives the Sox another athletic table-setter to go with Jacoby Ellsbury and Pedroia.

"When you're facing this kind of situation," said Ortiz, "you definitely want to get the first one out of the way. That's how things get started. Everybody's trying; probably some of us are trying too hard. That's baseball, though - you want to make things happen."

Right now, however, they're not. And everybody knows it.

Pedroia predicted that the onslought is coming. The lineup can't be bottled up for ever.

"Once we settle in though, it's going to be good," vowed Pedroia. "It's going to be good stuff."

But just four games into the season, the losses and the frustration mounting, time is of the essence.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.